Bergdahl Brought Home in Prisoner Exchange

Over the weekend, news broke that the United States government had made the decision to exchange five Guantanamo Bay prisoners for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl roughly five years after his capture by Taliban forces in Afghanistan. While many have applauded the effort to bring home a captured member of the American armed forces, not everybody has been so quick to label this course of action “correct.” Continue reading

DOD to Examine Nuclear Forces

Several weeks ago, Secretary Chuck Hagel called for reviews of the U.S.’s nuclear forces and in doing so, emphasized the need for a closer examination of the structure and conduct of its personnel. These reviews have been ordered in response to a number of recent scandals associated with nuclear armed forces in recent months, including a cheating scandal on the Air Force’s monthly nuclear proficiency exam, as well as Major Gen. Michael Carey’s dismissal from his supervisory role over intercontinental ballistics missiles after gross misconduct and binge drinking while on an official trip to Moscow. Continue reading

Penny Lane: Are Guantanamo Detainees Really the “Worst of the Worst?”

In 2002, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated that GTMO was populated by the “worst of the worst,” citing GTMO detainees as some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world. The Center for Policy and Research, however, published a report in March 2011, citing substantial evidence regarding the true recidivist rates of GTMO detainees pointing to the fact that these men were not nearly as dangerous as the U.S. originally claimed. Continue reading

Pentagon Appoints Guantanamo “Closer”

Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that it has appointed a special envoy in a renewed effort to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.  Paul M. Lewis, a former Judge Advocate General in the Marine Corps and current Democratic lawyer for the House Armed Services Committee, will take over the position on November 1.  He will be working alongside fellow Capitol Hill attorney Clifford Sloan, who was appointed in June as the State Department’s envoy for Guantanamo. Continue reading

Force-Feeding Condemned by Top Congressmen

As the controversy surrounding force-feeding tactics at Guantanamo Bay continues, two top members of the U.S. Senate have spoken out in favor of ending the practice.  Senators Richard Durbin and Dianne Feinstein called on President Obama to stop force-feeding prisoners partaking in hunger strikes in protest of their status at Guantanamo.  This comes just days after a U.S. District Court Judge handed down a ruling stating that federal courts have no authority to shut down the force-feeding program, but agreeing with detainees and their attorneys that the practice is troubling and may violate human rights.  The decision put the burden solely on President Obama to address the situation, and it looks like he will be receiving pressure from Congress as well.

Senators Durbin and Feinstein did imply that there may be cases where force-feeding is medically necessary, but stated that the military does not observe proper guidelines and safeguards even in those cases.  This was not Senator Feinstein’s first attempt at convincing the government to stop force-feeding.  Last month she wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after a visit to Guantanamo in which she called hunger strikes a “long-known form of non-violent protest aimed at bringing attention to a cause, rather than an attempt of suicide.”  This seems to imply that Feinstein’s views are in line with others who believe that force-feeding is inhumane in instances where protests do not threaten Guantanamo personnel and involve mentally competent detainees.

The White House turned to its usual response, stating that it does not want any detainees to die of malnutrition while in detention.  So it’s ok to hold them indefinitely with no hope of release even though we lack the necessary evidence to press charges, but it’s not ok for them to protest a largely unreasonable policy in a manner that poses no threat to the United States or its military personnel.  Got it.

The Senators also called on President Obama to make good on his long overdue promise to close Guantanamo Bay altogether, which was just another drop in the proverbial ocean of similar requests made since Obama took office.  As sad as it is, it’s almost laughable at this point to think that another request to close Guantanamo will make a difference with so many members of Congress still in favor of keeping it open.  But I guess it’s nice to know that there are still politicians out there who believe that it can be accomplished.

Do I think this latest effort to stop force-feeding and close Guantanamo will make any difference?  Not really.  Like I’ve said before, closing Guantanamo will be a long, painful process and there are still too many people who want to keep it open.  It’s not a groundbreaking prediction but I don’t think Guantanamo Bay will be closed any time in the near future.  I think our short-term goal needs to be putting an end to force-feeding.  If you believe Monday’s decision, we should be able to sidestep much of the political process and leave it up to President Obama if we focus on that.  That doesn’t mean we should abandon efforts to close the base, but we need to focus on the immediate problems that we can fix right now.

In a related story, two hunger-strikers dropped out of the over 4 month-long protest for unspecified reasons, bringing the total number down to 104.  However, 45 are still being force-fed on a daily basis.

Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research

Senate Armed Services Committee Approves Guantanamo Transfer Bill

It now appears that the government is taking steps toward lightening the burden on Guantanamo Bay, and perhaps even closing it.  Yesterday, The New York Times reported that the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014.  The bill will lift a ban on the transfer of detainees to the United States for the purpose of prosecution.  The bill also pertains to transferring detainees for medical reasons, or even for continued detention in American prisons.

Since 2011, the U.S. Secretary of Defense has been required to certify that a list of conditions have been met before a detainee could be transferred.  Most of the conditions were extra security measures that essentially stopped the government from even attempting transfers, even for low-security risk detainees.  Under the new bill, the checklist would be done away with and the Secretary of Defense would only need to certify that the transfer would be in the best interest of national security.  This would be a much more flexible process that would probably lead to more transfers and possibly more trials for detainees.

Although the bill has been approved, it still has a long way to go before it becomes a law.  No actual vote has been held; members of the Committee have only agreed to debate the bill’s provisions on the Senate floor.  A rival bill has also been drafted by Republicans in the House of Representatives that would maintain the blanketed ban on transfers for any reason whatsoever.

So what are the benefits of the bill?  First of all, it might speed up the process for detainees who are actually being charged with crimes.  Military tribunals are notoriously slow, and we often have to wait years before we see a verdict in these trials.  If we opened up our traditional court system, we might see quicker results.  That’s not to say that our traditional system is lightning quick, but if we remove some of the barriers that prosecutors and defense attorneys face in military tribunals we would probably see a lot more efficiency.

Aside from that, the cost of providing medical treatment to detainees at Guantanamo can be astronomical.  Medical expenses are high as it is, but when you factor in transportation costs for medical personnel and equipment, they become ridiculous.  We would not only be able to cut our bottom line if we were able to provide quicker, better, and cheaper medical attention for detainees, but we would probably be able to quiet some of the human rights concerns that have stemmed from force-feeding detainees that have been on hunger strikes for months now.

Overall, there are a lot of positives to be found in the bill.  President Obama’s initial promise to close Guantanamo a year into his presidency has turned into a lengthy debacle and it doesn’t look like the government will be able to close it in one fell swoop.  If we make the decision to close it, it’s going to be a long process.  And even if this bill were voted into law it’s probably unlikely that high-value detainees would be transferred due to security issues.    So is this bill just a small step towards the slow phasing-out of Guantanamo Bay?  Yes.  But it’s a step nonetheless, and a step we can build on.

Chris Whitten, Research Fellow
Center for Policy and Research

Gates Supports Drone Court

English: Official portrait of United States Se...

Official portrait of United States Secretary of Defense Robert Gates  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The number of high-profile officials and former officials who have voiced support for a court to review lethal drone operations is multiplying.

On Monday, former CIA Director and Defense Secretary Bob Gates told CNN that while he has long advocated the use of drones to monitor and target suspected terrorists, he also supports greater oversight.

Gates’ opinion will carry weight. As a career public servant who has served both Democratic and Republican administrations, he is perceived as a trustworthy source of non-partisan analysis. And because in the last two administrations he held high-level positions bearing directly on drone operations, he can be considered to have intimate knowledge of their uses, and their risks.

“I’m a big advocate of drones,” said Gates. While  he admits that innocent people are sometimes killed by drones, he says “the numbers, I believe are extremely small”. Given the limited options to confront the terrorists and insurgents in places like Pakistan, Gates still thinks that drones are the best option, explaining “You do have the ability to limit that collateral damage more than with any other weapons system that you have.”

But despite their efficacy, Gates agrees with the recent calls for some form of oversight panel or court:

“Whether it’s a panel of three judges or one judge or something that would give the American people confidence that there was, in fact, a compelling case to launch an attack against an American citizen – I think just as an independent confirmation or affirmation, if you will – is something worth giving serious consideration to”

Currently, the Senate Intelligence Committee is reviewing proposals for creating such a tribunal. However, no legislation has yet been started.

Paul Taylor, Senior Research Fellow

Center for Policy & Research